Your favorite pair of sweatpants only has one natural enemy – you. Very few sweats are made the same. Some are of better quality and made with better fabrics while others not so. Still, these lovable, soft necessities should last at least a year or two – ideally three. Normal wear and tear through light exercise or lounging should not pose a threat to them. So, what’s the problem? Two words: the wash.
How these fleece pants are washed determines the length of their useful life. There are three simple steps to follow when washing fleece pants.
Step 1: The first two wash cycles after purchase should always be with cold water followed by hang drying off the shower rod or door. The hot drier will do some initial damage to the fleece that will remove softness and stretch, the two real reasons to wear them in the first place! Heat interacts with cotton or cotton polyester blends and the fabric shrinks and hardens.
Step 2: Never turn the pants inside out despite what your mother told you. And always wash them alone. No cycle buddies at all, especially their natural bedfellows – bath towels. Pilling or clumping of the soft brushed inside fleece is guaranteed by the rubbing of it against anything with a rough surface. No quality fleece can withstand it. No chance. Adding a mild fabric softener is useful, too, especially if you have harder than normal water, but not necessary.
Step 3: Line dry only. I have test washed and test dried dozens of sweats and the only time heat drying works is if the pant is placed in a pillow case that is tied shut. The pant may not fully dry this way, but will get close enough to where a short two hours on the line will get them ready for use again. Just shake them to soften them up and hop in.
Finally, a few words about fleece. All fleece has a finished outside and a brushed inside. The only true anti pill fleece is polar fleece, which has the same finished look on both sides. Polar fleece is also generally warmer than regular sweatpant fleece if both fabrics are the same weight. Purchasing prewashed fleece garments will reduce the chance of pilling somewhat, but that advantage is gone if the fleece pant spends 20 minutes wrestling with the bath towels in a hot washer and boiling dryer.